Bee Season: A Basic Hive Setup

Start your hive hobby off right with this list of what to do first.
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Suited Up

Suited Up

Georgia beekeeper and educator Cassandra Lawson inspecting her hive.

Photo by: Image courtesy of Ben Rollins

Image courtesy of Ben Rollins

When I got interested in beekeeping, I did the opposite of most beekeepers. I took a beekeeping class before I bought my hive. In fact, I think I was the only one in my class who did – I distinctly remember the other students laughing good-naturedly because it was such a novel idea. Evidently, most people inherit a hive, or they’ve worked with other beekeepers and know the drill or they decide to just, pardon the pun, wing it.

So if you’re in the “wing it” camp (or any of those others) and you just want to start beekeeping, what do you do?

Buy Gear

A standard Langstroth hive, the white one everyone recognizes, consists of:

  • several boxes (the big ones are called “hive bodies,” where the bees build brood, or baby bees; and the small ones are “honey supers” where they store the honey)
  • a bottom board
  • a lid
  • an outer cover

You’ll need some frames to stick in the boxes, for the bees to build their comb on.

Most beekeepers outfit the frames with wax foundations so the bees have something to start on. You’ll also need a smoker, a feeder of some kind, an entrance guard and protective gear. For protective gear, you can buy a whole suit or just a shirt or jacket, or you can use your own. I’d also recommend gloves (mine come up to my shoulders) and a veil, either built into your suit, or separate.

I bought the Kentucky Special from the Walter T. Kelley Company because I liked having everything in a kit, from nails to foundation wax. (Kelley was recommended in my class; the name is just a happy coincidence!)

My kit came unassembled and unpainted, but you can buy ready-made kits, too. I don’t own a suit or jacket (I use a heavy cotton shirt) and my helmet and veil were gifts from another beekeeper.

Find a Location

The best location for a hive is facing east, near a water supply, preferably with afternoon shade. Mine sit in the backyard under a tree, and the only downside is that I have to mow around them. This fall I plan to make a patio and garden back there so I don’t have to irritate them (and me) with the mower.

Get Your Bees

The easiest way to get bees? Order them online. They come in a box, either by mail or FedEx.

You typically get 3 lbs of bees in a package (about 10,000 bees), and since you’re starting a hive from scratch, you should order a package with a queen. I ordered mine from when I bought the hive.

You can also order from local beekeepers — find them through your local beekeepers’ association. If you know a beekeeper whose bees have swarmed, you may be able to charm them out of the swarm.

Register Your Bees

Find your local extension service by calling your county government or Googling. Then ask if you need to register your bees. Most states require that you register all hives, and that they be inspected once a year.

Join a Support Group

Just kidding. But it might not hurt to join your nearest beekeepers’ association. They’re a good place to find a mentor, buy local honey, purchase beekeeping supplies and get bees.

Subscribe to a Magazine (or Two)

I’m more a reader than a joiner, so while I never joined my local beekeepers’ group, I do go to the library to read: Bee Culture and the American Bee Journal. I also like these beekeeping sites: Melissa BeesThe Barefoot Beekeeper and Sweet Seattle Life. I also recently started tracking my hive on Hive Tracks, which is probably better-suited to people with more than one hive, but still a lot of fun.

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